King Henry VIII Study Guide

King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII by William Shakespeare

Henry VIII is a historical drama about the life of the eponymous English king. It covers his turbulent early marriages, the rebellious ambitions of his noblemen, and the scheming designs of his advisor Cardinal Wolsey. The play chronicles the early periods of Henry's rule, concluding with the birth of Queen Elizabeth I. It deals with Henry as a primarily heroic figure, though it does criticize his marital practices and dependence on courtiers.

Henry VIII (c. 1613) was one of the last plays written by William Shakespeare and was based on the life of Henry VIII of England. An alternative title, All is True, is recorded in contemporary documents, the title Henry VIII not appearing until the play's publication in the First Folio of 1623. Stylistic evidence indicates that the play was written by Shakespeare in collaboration with, or revised by, John Fletcher.

Act I

  • Order gave each thing view.
    • Norfolk, scene i

  • No man’s pie is freedFrom his ambitious finger.
    • Buckingham, scene i

  • Anger is likeA full-hot horse, who being allow’d his way,

    Self-mettle tires him.

    • Norfolk, scene i

  • Be to yourselfAs you would to your friend.
    • Norfolk, scene i

  • Heat not a furnace for your foe so hotThat it do singe yourself.
    • Norfolk, scene i

  • 'Tis but the fate of place, and the rough brakeThat virtue must go through.
    • Wolsey, scene ii

Act II

  • The mirror of all courtesy.
    • 2 Gentleman, scene i

  • This bold bad man.
    • Lord Chamberlain, scene ii

  • 'Tis better to be lowly born,And range with humble livers in content,

    Than to be perk'd up in a glistering grief,

    And wear a golden sorrow.

    • Anne, scene iii


  • Orpheus, with his lute, made trees,And the mountain-tops that freeze,

    Bow themselves when he did sing.

    • Singer, scene i

  • 'Tis well said again,And 'tis a kind of good deed to say well;

    And yet, words are no deeds.

    • King Henry, scene ii

  • Read o'er this;And after, this: and then to breakfast with

    What appetite you have.

    • King Henry, scene ii

  • I have touch'd the highest point of all my greatness;And, from that full meridian of my glory,

    I haste now to my setting: I shall fall

    Like a bright exhalation in the evening,

    And no man see me more.

    • Wolsey, scene ii

  • Press not a falling man too far!
    • Lord Chamberlain, scene ii

  • Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth

    The tender leaves of hope; to-morrow blossoms,

    And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;

    The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,

    And,— when he thinks, good easy man, full surely

    His greatness is a-ripening,— nips his root,

    And then he falls, as I do. I have ventur'd,

    Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,

    This many summers in a sea of glory,

    But far beyond my depth: my high-blown pride

    At length broke under me; and now has left me,

    Weary and old with service, to the mercy

    Of a rude stream, that must forever hide me.

    Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye!

    I feel my heart new open'd. O, how wretched

    Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favours!

    There is, betwixt that smile we would aspire to,

    That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,

    More pangs and fears than wars or women have;

    And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,

    Never to hope again.

    • Wolsey, scene ii

  • I feel within meA peace above all earthly dignities,

    A still and quiet conscience.

    • Wolsey, scene ii

  • A load would sink a navy,— too much honour.
    • Wolsey, scene ii

  • And sleep in dull cold marble.
    • Wolsey, scene ii

  • Say, Wolsey,— that once trod the ways of glory,And sounded all the depths and shoals of honour,—

    Found thee a way, out of his wreck, to rise in;

    A sure and safe one, though thy master miss'd it.

    • Wolsey, scene ii

  • I charge thee, fling away ambition;By that sin fell the angels.
    • Wolsey, scene ii

  • Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;Corruption wins not more than honesty.

    Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,

    To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:

    Let all the ends thou aim’st at, be thy country’s,

    Thy God’s, and truth’s; then if thou fall’st, O Cromwell,

    Thou fall’st a blessed martyr!

    • Wolsey, scene ii

  • Had I but serv'd my God with half the zealI serv'd my king, he would not in mine age

    Have left me naked to mine enemies.

    • Wolsey, scene ii

Act IV

  • A royal train, believe me.
    • 2 Gentleman, scene i

  • An old man, broken with the storms of state,Is come to lay his weary bones among ye;

    Give him a little earth for charity!

    • Griffith, quoting Wolsey, scene ii

  • He gave his honours to the world again,His blessed part to heaven, and slept in peace.
    • Griffith, scene ii

  • So may he rest; his faults lie gently on him!
    • Queen Katharine, scene ii

  • He was a manOf an unbounded stomach, ever ranking

    Himself with princes.

    • Queen Katharine, scene ii

  • Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtuesWe write in water.
    • Griffith, scene ii

  • He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one;Exceeding wise, fair-spoken, and persuading:

    Lofty and sour to them that lov'd him not;

    But to those men that sought him, sweet as summer,

    And though he were unsatisfied in getting,

    (Which was a sin) yet in bestowing, madam,

    He was most princely.

    • Griffith, scene ii

  • After my death I wish no other herald,No other speaker of my living actions,

    To keep mine honour from corruption,

    But such an honest chronicler as Griffith.

    • Queen Katharine, scene ii

Act V

  • To dance attendance on their lordships’ pleasures.
    • King Henry, scene ii

  • 'Tis a cruelty,To load a falling man.
    • Cromwell, scene ii

  • You were ever good at sudden commendations,Bishop of Winchester. But know, I come not

    To hear such flattery now; and in my presence,

    They are too thin and bare to hide offences.

    • King Henry, scene iii

  • Those about herFrom her shall read the perfect ways of honour.
    • Cranmer, scene iv

  • Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,His honour and the greatness of his name

    Shall be, and make new nations.

    • Cranmer, scene iv

  • A most unspotted lily shall she passTo the ground, and all the world shall mourn her.
    • Cranmer, scene iv

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